EMBODIED KNOWLEDGE: WHAT IT IS & WHY IT IS PHENOMENALLY IMPORTANT

                        By Robert B. Elliott

In 1998, two brilliant scientists co-wrote a book entitled, “Philosophy in the Flesh”, in which they introduced the world to a radically more enlightened way of thinking about a whole range of things having to do with the way humans come to view and understand the world around them. Their insights and illumination regarding several aspects of thought and human behavior will require decades for even many scientists to comprehend and process fully. The author’s names are George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, a linguist and a neuroscientist respectively, although both have a wealth of knowledge and training in other fields.

Our philosophy in both the narrow and broader sense cannot be divorced from our flesh, literally meaning our individual bodies, despite generations of having been conditioned to see thought or mental process as completely separate somehow from the physical universe and from any part of our bodies or brains.

A brilliant Descartes, working with the poorly developed biological and other science of his day, which wasn’t yet clearly distinguished adequately from philosophy and religion, formulated a view of mind or cognition and intellectual material that was completely independent from the physical universe. We have mistakenly stuck with his badly flawed conception ever since. The revelations outlined in this new seminal work of genius completely reversing Descartes’ logical errors have yet to become more than a blip within the consciousness of a few scientists or ordinary citizens.

Descartes lacked the benefit of the many discoveries to come after his death and the tools that scientists possess today to study mental processes and brain functions. His beliefs that thinking and knowledge were somehow external to humans derived directly from ancient philosophical conclusions which saw God as the ultimate source of all knowledge and the “spirit” as a manifestation of God’s influence on man through something akin to what we might call mental telepathy. As unscientific as it may seem to our eyes and ears now, it is still the foundation for most popular and institutional conceptions relative to cognition in 2016!

There is that word; “knowledge” used casually in the last sentence of the first paragraph. Anyone reading Lakoff and Johnson’s amazing book will never think of knowledge in the same way again as in the past. Until now, the misconceived default position nearly universally has been that knowledge is to be found in external sources produced by scholars or “knowledgeable individuals”, and subsequently retrieved from those sources by students, observers, or the curious to make them knowledgeable in turn.

Knowledge, in the traditional view allegedly resides in various media, such as books, ancient texts, incisive lectures delivered by prestigious authorities in particular fields of expertise, magazines, etc., or it is preserved within and transmitted through other types of media, such as in tribal oral narratives in which language or symbols are transmitted or stored and utilized in study by youth or students for the conveyance of concepts, ideas, thoughts, or information. We commonly refer to “it” (as I just did) as a thing. Lakoff and Johnson show conclusively and indisputably, however, that all knowledge is embodied (resides within a functioning living body with a sentient brain) and that anything not embodied is NOT knowledge. “It” is not a thing in the sense of a “body of knowledge” that one might seek to possess by some type of osmosis or absorption.

Information in the form of inert symbols is not and cannot be knowledge. Facts and data are merely information for processing by mental activity during contemplation, review, discussion, examination, and rumination. Intellectual acumen and wisdom are not replicated as easily or as methodically as we might like to believe. Knowledge is not some numinous body of great insight, information, or data that exists in a cloud somewhere to be tapped into by the right equipment or by being tuned into the proper wavelength. It only exists within the brain/mind/body of a living and breathing human being as part of a phenomenological whole. Knowledge is a cumulative, vibrant, and largely personal creation that combines or integrates existing conceptions and mental process with new input, ALWAYS resulting in “knowing” that is alive and different in many respects. Intelligence that is artificial or canned for later consumption may contain splendid ideas with which to work, analyze, and pursue goals, but it is not knowledge.

The word “consciousness” was also used casually in the second paragraph. Consciousness is a key concept in Lakoff and Johnson’s book which also takes on a whole new meaning and relevance when one integrates the novel information and insights these authors offer into one’s more ordinary conceptions of consciousness and into what we typically see as the unconscious mind.

The conscious and unconscious cannot be disentangled with any clear lines of demarcation during ordinary living events or processes. Unconscious thought processes are by definition below the level of awareness. Cognition includes much that is not linguistic in nature or traceable by recalling a “thought process” that is connected by concrete symbols, specific ideas, or identifiable images.

It is safe to assume that it is impossible for all cognition that a person experiences to ever be brought “to the surface” for deliberation and examination as linear thought in the way that one identifies all elements and aspects of a problem or thesis on a fully conscious level for any significant period of time, even by intense concentration. Indeed, we cannot even say that we have purely conscious thoughts that are not invariably accompanied by related cognitive activity that is completely ineffable and inaccessible.

Total and persistent concentration on a single level wherein processed language predominates to maintain a continuous flow of logical thought in a conscious self-dialogue minus the interaction or influences of feelings, belief-based thought from the distant past, and traces of mental images or vague perceptions or “inklings” that reside below the level of awareness is simply not humanly possible for any extended length of time, if at all. We think while we feel (or because of what we feel) and we have multiple complex processes involving memory and “knowledge” going on simultaneously much if not all of the time. Those processes involve impressions and ideas or both specific and non-specific memories and “impulses” or electrical brain activity that register consciously only partly and only through intentional effort and deliberate attentiveness.

We discover that much more of what we refer to as knowledge and what we conceive as mind reside within an intricate sensorimotor system of nerves, synapses, and chemicals that are part of the brain and body or that are connected inextricably to the body parts that are not brain (the mind/body connection that has previously been only poorly understood and only partially accepted). That knowledge and that “mind” exist MOSTLY below the level of conscious thinking or awareness much of the time typically, rather than in a linear flowing of language and cognition that is processed in computer-like fashion consciously.  Mind that is fully tuned in to its own process and able to recall, track, and alter its process at will, as is the current common understanding of our awareness, is much more mythical than real. 

Embodiment is anything but an exotic or esoteric concept. It is a safe bet that Sir Isaac Newton had had the experience of rolling down a grassy knoll or hanging onto a tree branch and dropping to the ground. Or, he surely had some other physical sensation of gravity or experience with magnetism that made the falling apple especially significant for him at a particular moment. Physical sensations and memory circuits unquestionably helped him make the cognitive connections that led to the idea of gravity as a force with which to be reckoned.

Anyone who has fallen out of a tree or taken a spill from a moving bicycle has an embodied knowledge about gravity that needs little explication with descriptive language, pictures, or diagrams in order to reach a basic comprehension of the underlying concept. That corporal knowledge is real knowing. It is felt by the body and preserved or remembered. It is useful (and essential, as in the essence of) for building a deeper or greater knowledge that can be appreciated, explored, and expanded. Knowledge is in large part metaphoric in that much or possibly all we know is known by the application of metaphors from our physical existence and experience.

It has been quite well understood for no small space of time that memory is embodied. Memory, of course is knowledge that is exclusively one’s own recording of events or of data points that have become available to the individual as internal information for possible later use or reminiscence. Early psychology experiments confirmed that memory involves synapses within the brain that have connections to other synapses and nerve networks which affect organic parts or larger primary organs allowing us to repeat movements or activities more or less automatically and to reflect back on our personal history and experience, anchoring us in time and space.

We know that memory is generally split into short-term and long-term memory and that either can be influenced by things both within or external to the body. Memory may also be factually in error or degraded over time by any number of factors, all understood as things affecting the elements of the physical body that created the memory initially. No one imagines that their vivid and sometimes detailed memories could ever be represented by mere words in a book or by pictures painted, even by them (from memory), with a degree of vitality and intricate detail anywhere near equal to their internal vision and recall capability, although some movie directors do an admirable job of trying.

The direct physical sensations and experience of the human body are the first and best teachers and are the origins of our intelligence and knowledge. We only become capable of thinking about concepts and aware of “reality” and relationships in our universe through the interaction of our bodies with our environment, physical and social. Ideas of full and empty; open and closed; directionality; time passage; freedom or constriction; movement or inertia; balance; temperature; pain or exhilaration; leverage; connection; rotation; light or dark; vision or blindness; inside or outside; good or bad; fresh or stale, and seemingly a million others are only available to us for construction and reconstruction in cognition after we have known via our OWN senses and organic functions within our OWN world some rudimentary or fundamental information about “things” and spaces and time and life.

Indeed, life is defined by movement. I once read an exciting book about the vibrations in the universe that brought some of this home to me in an especially meaningful way. Without the vibrations in atoms and organic matter of every form, there would surely be no life and no growth. The beating of the heart is a vibration. The word vibrant is a description of a radiation of life-force from an actively alive being.

There are vibrations at every level throughout the universe which affect our physical bodies in various ways and which occur within our bodies that may be essential to our existence. Light is vibration. Sound is vibration. Breathing is a kind of vibration. The author of the book prescribed dance as the only viable means for humanity to get back in tune with nature. He decried the growing lack of dance in our lives and the declines in such natural and integrated movement in space as the source of our ultimate demise, as I recall.

Can anyone imagine that there would be ideas such as “curved space”, the space-time continuum, or the General and Special Theories of Relativity had Einstein not jumped through hoops, climbed trees, danced, or walked, run, and played in a carefree manner in wide open spaces as a child? Would any of the great mathematicians or physicists before or since have been able to formulate extraordinarily complex theories and visualize in their mind’s eyes how they connect with inert mathematical formulae without having lived a rich and active life with direct connections to the physical environment? The precursors to the kind of limitless thought, imagination, and creativity that such great minds accomplish are most definitely the consequence of bodies exposed to a world that cannot be seen or experienced from the inside of a classroom.

            It has been more than fifty years since various critics of our schools first complained that many educators (so-called) were treating education as a simple process of filling up empty heads with information, as if children were the “blank slates” on which teachers could imprint their knowledge and as if knowledge were a tangible, identifiable, and determinate thing or a type of commodity to be purchased with enough money. Valiant efforts have been made to counteract that sort of pervasive misperception. However, success has been extremely elusive.

            One of the reasons why progress has been stymied repeatedly is because of the difficulty educators have with thinking of knowledge in accordance with the latest science and with their (pathetic) inability to trust children to seek knowledge without prodding, browbeating, coercion, and attempts to frame it as something they can get from others without creating their own iterations. There are other reasons that must be discussed within a more elaborate framework, later, elsewhere.

              Knowledge, in the still predominant view is presented as a set of facts that are principally immutable and objectively correct according to an accepted standard and consensus. However, that perception has serious flaws. If for example a biographer with a slight liberal bias and one with a mild conservative bias each write a biography of the same historical figure using the same records, letters and interviews, regardless of their professional ethics and capabilities, they will inevitably differ in how they see and interpret the subject and the consequential events of the careers and lives of their subject. The facts are clearly not set in stone, despite attempts to make them uniform and compatible and regardless of a perceived need to agree.

Even with respect to the great mathematicians and physicists and their monumental discoveries, there will always be gradations and shadings in how their ideas are condensed by themselves and others as text or formulae in books and records when certain aspects are broken down or analyzed for further understanding or for posterity. That anachronistic brand of “knowledge” is often on some very shaky ground (this is, for example, a handy metaphor that we all get because of physical experiences involving shaking and references to earthquakes) and involves controversy and conflict, depending on where it intersects with the real world. It can only become dogma that inhibits new knowledge when given that status.

            Knowledge MUST be created anew by each student and scholar. That is one of the facts of life that some may find disconcerting or confusing. It requires a different way of looking at education, school, and many of the edifices and traditions of our culture and society. So be it. We can continue to undermine our most significant foundations for the future by following the dictates of an established intellectual and educational hierarchy, or we can acknowledge that things change continuously, along with the awareness, insights, interpretations, definitions, and formulations by which we each see the world and communicate our sight and insight to others. Our refusal to change and failure to learn or to accept the science and insight that is available to us now is a formula for catastrophe.

SUMMARY:

            It has often been said that knowledge is power. There is great truth in that statement. However, knowledge is not what we have been taught to believe. Knowledge is an amalgam of the information provided via symbols and languages to an individual; of the second-hand discoveries of others as conveyed through some medium; of facts as discerned through thorough research and analysis from various fallible human or other sources, and of words of wisdom and insight from those going before us, combined with the fresh wisdom, experience, perception, thought process, science, and feeling that we each generate continuously as sentient individuals doing our best to form particular understandings and a holistic and comprehensive world-view. We each formulate our own answers to questions and problems in our world. To wish for some other way is to reject human nature.

            Whatever we find, “out there” in our travels or studies may have been intended to encapsulate the knowledge that someone else has accumulated. We are wise to do our utmost to preserve the genius of an Einstein, or a Newton, the Dali Lama, or the heroes of classical literature. However, it is especially unwise to imagine that generations of children can absorb the knowledge of the leaders in various fields of endeavor with adequate precision and acuity and to become truly knowledgeable without having created their own personal knowledge that is exclusive to them first and that is to some extent non-transferrable or non-transmissible.

            We use our senses to “make sense” of the world. Our senses are the physical means by which we sense what is in our physical and sensory environment, which includes our mental and emotional environment as well. There is no wall of separation whatsoever between the physical body and the mind. The reader’s senses, i.e., the five primary senses, and intuition or any other senses that exist, should by this point have sent a clear message to her or his brain that knowledge is indeed embodied. For each body/mind, that knowledge is somewhat special, unique, and non-transferrable. It is part of memory and part of an awareness and a world-view that necessarily changes over time and even moment to moment.

If this effort has been successful, assuming you had not been exposed to this input previously, you the reader have integrated this information and perspective into a new and important personal knowledge, which has just been produced by you for your own purposes in your own way using the understandings, beliefs, facts, emotional content, and intellectual capacity that is yours alone. You may find ways to spread the news to others and some may prefer to call that education. But, your knowledge can’t be perfectly replicated, nor should it be. Others may use the information that you offer in any number of other ways, depending on their particular experience, purposes, and interpretations.

For the record, we have developed an incredibly complex and confounding set of beliefs and myths about schools and education that are simply false. Our systems are dysfunctional in many respects and many children are poorly served or badly harmed as a result. While the neuroscience research discussed here is relatively new and revolutionary, many insightful observers and educators have already understood, if only intuitively, and have formerly tried to apply those same fundamental principles suggested by the new revelations over many generations, only to meet phenomenal resistance and frustration from traditionalists.

That resistance comes primarily from the bureaucracy and the authoritarian structures that exist primarily because of compulsory attendance laws. Until those counterproductive and unconstitutional laws are eliminated, no amount of learning and study will enable us to make meaningful changes to our institutions.

Attendance laws derive from highly erroneous beliefs about learning and knowledge. They require institutions with built-in factors that preclude many of the conditions necessary for knowledge acquisition based on individual initiative. There is no way to substitute for initiative or to manufacture it under compulsion. There is no way to pretend that compulsion isn’t actually coercive, paternalistic, and manipulative. Without initiative, engagement is contrived and conditional. Initiative is the engine that drives knowledge acquisition and knowledge acquisition feeds initiative. Movement is essential and a healthy body and mind allow the embodiment of knowledge, which most of traditional schooling cannot help but compromise.

DEFINING EDUCATION; A FOOL’S ERRAND

                                                By Robert B. Elliott   

When can we say with assurance that a person is educated? Is it merely a question of how many hours have been spent in instruction or school? Is it only when a document has been granted by an institution, such as a high school diploma or a college degree? Is a really bright school drop-out who has read extensively and studied independently, or managed to succeed in a field of business or a career, not educated simply for lack of an official certificate?

Can anyone truly say definitively and decisively what an education entails and where the line is drawn between an educated person and an ignorant, uneducated person? Are there specialized experts or scholars who have the ability to talk to a person or study their behavior in order to ascertain whether or not that person is educated, or whether or not one has achieved some verifiable intellectual or academic status that is elevated to a level that they alone can measure or evaluate? Do some individuals fail in the test for having become educated because they are missing some other esoteric quality or characteristic despite having met a given standard by virtue of some specific accomplishment or criteria?

What about someone such as the Uni-bomber, who while brilliant, is psychotic or a sociopath? Wasn’t he “well-educated”? How about Sean Hannity, who makes millions as a blustering and arrogant TV commentator, who has written a couple of books, but who is patently wrong about nearly everything (because of his lack of education as some of would define it and psychological handicaps that pervert his thinking process), and whose writing is inane and pedestrian, and whose thinking is shallow, childlike and illogical? How or why would anyone emulate and admire him as one who is “educated”?

These important questions illustrate issues that need to be examined and resolved if we are to achieve a level of education, for at least most of our citizenry that is optimal for our continued collective success and for our survival as a species. Currently, the concept of education is more fuzzy and subjective or arbitrary than anyone seems to appreciate. Now, let the discussion begin.

            It’s Far More Complex and Convoluted Than Anyone Supposes

The word “education” is bandied about by ‘everybody and his brother’, with the bland assumption that everyone should be in agreement with respect to what that might mean. Yet, few of us can provide anything but the most general and vague definition for the concept to which we refer, and fewer still have any conception of the myriad shades and complexities that the word entails.

 It seems as if there should be some consensus or parameters for what is meant by the word education that are agreed upon by at least a sizable majority of Americans. There are few things of greater importance in a society. However, most people rely on a highly simplistic view and only a tiny minority have studied in depth the various questions and controversies that surround the topic. There are huge controversies and many disagreements, in fact, relative to how education is best “administered”, or what children need in order to achieve their maximum potential with respect to education.

Webster’s College Dictionary, Fourth Edition, defines education as,

 “1.) act or process of educating; instruction. 2.) the science of teaching: pedagogy.      

    

Those rather vague explanations for the noun “education” don’t tell us much. Their definition for the verb, educate is only slightly more helpful. According to Webster, to educate is to,                                                                                                                                                                          1.) impart knowledge and training to: develop mentally and morally by instruction.     

 2.) send to school: provide schooling for.

Our questions from above go largely unanswered by these dictionary definitions or by any of the many panel discussions, magazine articles, books and other inquiries about schools and what is being called education.

In her recent blog entitled, “A Complete Guide to Pursuing Meaningful Education Reform”, Zoe Weil asks a series of insightful questions that get at some of the things that would seem to define education. She asks, “When you hear the words ‘“education reform”’ what do you think of? Ensuring that there is equity in schooling? That kids are becoming proficient in foundational subjects like reading, math, and science? That they are being prepared for 21st century challenges? That they learn to be critical and creative thinkers ready for a rapidly changing world? That they have excellent, inspiring teachers whom they respect and admire? That they graduate as compassionate, honest, knowledgeable, thoughtful global citizens ready and able to be solutionaries no matter what careers they pursue?”

Webster can be forgiven for having failed to distill education down without losing the most crucial elements. They have to rely on common usage and uncommon analysis. Weil, mentioned above has supposed that we can achieve education in schools by taking a more holistic and comprehensive approach to solving, simultaneously, all of the problems that have been identified by dozens of blue ribbon commissions and innumerable other studies and analyses. She is dreaming. The splendid specifics that she has identified for herself and for her blog readers in attempting to pin down a meaning of education, as edifying and important as they may be, are likewise of limited usefulness. Fitting a large number of indices, variables, attributes or processes into a definition for education gets a bit complicated, very quickly.

Michele Rhee seems to believe that education is defined by the passing of standardized tests and optimal behavioral performance as gauged by supposed experts or established criteria. Bill Gates would make the ability to fit into an industrial or technical organization and turn out useful products as a top priority and criteria. A personal friend by the name of Alvin Meinhold, who taught school decades ago prefers quoting a definition from English literature published in 1947. He quotes a character from a novel by John Horn Burns, entitled, Lucifer with a Book, who when establishing a legal trust to fund a new school says, “Education boy is not something to prepare you for life. That is a vulgar American error. It is something to take you out of life. Don’t you want to have some small kingdom of your own that no one can take away from you?”                      

This article will propose that education is ineffable; it must be experienced and lived and witnessed. Education, like beauty is to some extent in the eye of the beholder. It is not subject to easy detection or analysis. Words will never be available that can condense it into a neat replicable package. Methods and techniques will never be on hand to boil it down to a handy formula. Institutions will never exist that can mass produce it. The thoughts expressed in the previous quote from the novel mentioned in the last paragraph take us much further toward having an appreciation for the nuances and uncertain qualities of the educational process than any of the others in vogue.

 Education is indeed one’s personal and private kingdom, however small or limited, which is truly unique and wholly unclassifiable. Everything we do to try to codify and quantify education puts at risk the very things we aspire to create in our efforts aimed at this elusive private human property.

We must discover ways to talk about the wide variety of things that we want young people to experience, learn and achieve, without allowing unproven assumptions to influence our decisions. The temptation to extrapolate from certain favored beliefs and superficial ideas about processes and policies in pursuit of something we blithely call education should not be permitted to entrap us in erroneous thinking that presupposes we will happen upon the right formula if only we follow the right leaders or take the right pathways. We have no choice but to trust the learner, the teacher, the parent and the culture, after we establish certain broad parameters for the unpredictable and unlimited opportunities we elect to provide.

            The Potential for Potential Has Little Potential – If Truth Be Told

Another word that is bandied about with little regard for its potential for misuse is, “potential”. It has already been used once in this article, although with considerable more care than is typical. The failure of a child to live up to some theoretical or imagined potential is used as a weapon against the child or the parent and now even against the teacher, despite the utter meaninglessness of the concept in a school context or with regard to the child’s education.

 No one has the slightest clue about the future directions, interests or capacities of a child, if truth be told. Albert Einstein’s father was told in essence, by a schoolmaster, that he was a poor student and would never succeed in any productive endeavor. One can find innumerable examples of other great figures in history with a similar prognosis by educators and supposed leaders. Today, we see many examples of people with Asperger’s Syndrome, autism, ADHD, savant conditions, dyslexia and other conditions, which have created issues in certain instructional or institutional settings, yet which have nevertheless failed to reflect their demonstrated capacity for excellence in a variety of fields and activities or their capabilities for adjusting to life as they encounter it.

The common over-use and misuse of the word potential in schools illustrates how little we know about the educational process and how easily we become distracted as a consequence of our adult or analytical perspectives. To suppose that a child’s potential is compromised by talking in class, daydreaming, spending too little time on assignments or homework and the like is an absurdity. One’s potential relative to some distant future is contingent on a nearly infinite range of factors. The needs, urges, interests, feelings, perceptions and ostensible lack of diligence that the child is experiencing in the present cannot be dismissed as irrelevant or mere distractions from some drive to achieve long-range goals. This is not to say that education does not ever require strict discipline and rapt attention. It does however indicate that education and potential are impossible to reconcile for anyone but the child and possibly her parents.

Potential is realized not solely by conforming to ideas and ideals presented from others or by becoming focused laser-like on a glorious future set of objectives to the exclusion of everything else, but by evolving as an individual through experiences that combine self-realization and self-expression with social participation and goal-directed activity. We should hope that each child’s potential will reflect varied activities, interests and endeavors integrated into a life that has sanguine meaning; the ‘potential’ for satisfaction and peacefulness in the present; striving toward growth within a group and family, and awareness of one’s own power to decide and to influence as well as be influenced.

            Uncharted Territory

Quite possibly the only thing we can say with near complete certainty is that education and life intersect when a receptive individual has the opportunity to explore and discover with the right mix of motivation and capability. Education may be part of a conscious or formal plan or program, or it may be purely spontaneous. However, it cannot be engineered, prescribed, coerced or purchased without the active and voluntary engagement of the subject.

None of the foregoing is meant to suggest that children should be given free rein and left strictly to their own devices. Not all learning is beneficial and not all learning is a part of education. Unfortunately, much of what is learned in school is superfluous gobbledygook.  School is an artificial environment that in no way mirrors real life. Much that is learned is relative to a political and social hierarchy that poisons students’ outlook and perverts their attitudes toward both life and education.

George Lakoff and Mark Johnson say the following about education in their stellar book, Philosophy in the Flesh, “Education is not a thing; it’s an activity. Knowledge is not literally transmitted from teacher to student, and education is not merely the acquisition of particular bits of knowledge. Through education students who work at it become something different. It is what they become that is important.” Pg. 532

Serious people who care about children and who have some intuitive sense of what education feels like and how one achieves it must stop talking about it as if they can define or identify it. They must call out those people, such as Arne Duncan and Michele Rhee who pretend to have the answers that will provide education, if only we follow their lead down the primrose path.

There actually are researchers and scientists and others who have zeroed in on some extremely revealing and helpful cues about the learning processes and elemental language and brain interactions that are crucial to development and intellectual and social progress (first and foremost being the aforementioned Lakoff and Johnson). However, art and relationship, and experience and attitude, are not to be categorized and analyzed in the way that too many educators have assumed. Science can provide the framework but there is no method or formula that can fill in the blanks and spell out the steps that will assure education for any one individual or for any group. Curriculum from experts is a sure formula for disaster. Teaching is an art and a skill and a part of a special relationship that cannot be prescribed or programmed.

In the strictest sense the educator doesn’t educate and the teacher doesn’t teach. Our perception of these things almost universally revolves around a unidirectional effort on the part of a person with knowledge meant to gift it to the person who lacks that knowledge. If education is taking place however, there must be a two-way conversation and a melding of minds involving communication about what the student knows and an awareness that the student is in possession of crucial information, and a knowledge matrix to which the instructor can have only very limited access.

When the infant emerges from the womb, he knows something about what it is like living for nine months inside a womb and he quickly discovers what it is like to breathe and find nourishment, assuming he is properly cared for by adults. He was not taught; he learned from those experiences. When the baby discovers that crying or cooing elicits attention, that is not a lesson or the result of an educational scheme orchestrated by adults; it is a learning experience which she frequently initiates and in which she fully participates.

When the student hears that Columbus discovered America, if he is engaged and curious, he is adding that erroneous bit of knowledge to an enormous body of “embodied” knowledge already acquired in a short life that may later include the more accurate information that Columbus was preceded to these shores by any number of other explorers or adventurers or lost seafarers. The child’s mind/body is not a blank slate. The knowledge that is sourced externally via the symbols of language or art or numbers and maps, whether of adults and “experts” or of other children is never 100% reliable, 100% identical, or 100% foreign and unique.

Presumably, we want all children to become educated. Ironically, to achieve any approximation of that ideal, we must abandon our attempts to box it up, enrich it with vitamins, sweeten it with fun or exciting and distracting activities and games, and force feed it to students. We must figure out how to provide maximum opportunities with minimal interference and paternalistic influence. The education train left the station a long time ago and we need a new mode of transportation to catch up.

            It’s an Art; It’s a Science; It’s a Mystery, and It’s Far Too Important to Leave to Experts

Webster correctly names education as a process. However, it is not uninterrupted and it is not a process that can be analyzed and duplicated like making cheese.  It is a science also, according to them, although one that is not at all amenable to the same sort of experimentation and verification as other sciences, since it involves human, personal, social and psychological (and psycho-social) factors that are spread over decades, impossible to clearly distinguish from certain other factors.

We can say with complete confidence that merely attending schools or undergoing instruction for some period is inadequate to define education. We can also say that passing various tests cannot be a basis for distinguishing the educated from the uneducated. To Webster’s description that, it is to “impart knowledge and training to: develop mentally and morally by instruction” in their brief stab at defining the verb form, there are the clear implications for more questions than answers.

How much “knowledge or training” must be imparted to reach a given stage of education, or to prepare one for adulthood, or for a career or success or happiness? Under what circumstances, and toward what goals is one trained, or is training at all compatible with the sort of autonomy that is associated with education, adulthood, democracy, or liberty in the US? Training connotes parameters that are far narrower than the parameters of independent thought or personal moral and intellectual development.

Furthermore, meanings are subject to change and to varying interpretations, especially where beliefs, theories and practical matters collide. The definitions we accept for education on a popular level in one location today can have far reaching implications in different locations and at different times. Constructing a broadly acceptable and accurate definition that would satisfy at least a majority of discerning “educated” people, and that would encompass both what it means traditionally, as well as all that has recently been discovered about learning processes, knowledge, the human brain and mind, and culture, is not as easy as it may appear at first blush.

While it certainly does seem that there should logically be some working definition for something as significant, familiar and universally desired as education, as indicated earlier, we cannot even get past the one-yard line in that effort. Definition with any precision at all is actually too much to ask of anyone.

There has been immense progress recently in all of the sciences dealing with human growth and development and especially in neuroscience and psychology, along with leaps and bounds in the science of education itself. Unfortunately, impenetrable barriers exist that prevent meaningful long-term application of those discoveries in the field.

Still, for those who are employed in the “field of education” or those anxious to ensure that some less rigorous or accurate description is not allowed to displace or degrade essential ideas and beliefs about education as a state of being worthy of emulation and great effort, it is important to state or restate with somewhat more accuracy what we believe the word to encompass.

            What Education is NOT

Unfortunately, we may have to settle for using what we believe education NOT to be as our starting point if we aren’t satisfied with the simple yet elegant description of, “a kingdom of one’s own”. That would be most of what occurs daily in schools around the country. After we dispense with all that extraneous nonsense, we may be better able to isolate some things we DO want and can strive to provide for.

Webster, correctly, also includes training in their definition of education, but a very crucial distinction must be made. Although training is clearly an important element of learning and education, training can be and often is inimical to and incompatible with education.

Training, such as in how to brush hair and teeth and in toilet use and other basic hygiene for a child, or instruction in how to operate a sophisticated computerized device, an appliance, or a motorized device, etc., contributes to one’s overall skill in navigating life’s daily chores and joys, and as such is an integral part of one’s education.

However, parents and educators who mean well but have something other than education as their objective, i.e., rigid discipline, “tough love”, training in religious dogma, social conformity, political correctness, etc., can all too easily become confused with respect to training that does not advance educational goals and that is in direct opposition to the values and to other essential skills that are fundamental to what we have typically conceived of as education.

School as we know it entails much more training and far less education than is apparent. This is an incurable property of any institution that assembles students within an authoritarian hierarchy and where they are not present as a consequence of their own initiative or voluntary choice. This is precisely why we never achieve the sort of results we anticipate from most of our schools and why many students are well trained but not educated in a more accurate and traditional sense, however one chooses to define education. Training must be encompassed within a framework that is focused on the individual and that is an integral part of a personal pursuit toward a broader objective.

Ultimately, it is up to each of us to decide what we would include or exclude in defining education and how we wish to pursue it for ourselves and our progeny. This is possibly the most important choice we are enabled in making in a democracy. In making that choice and extending the choices to our children we have our best means of conveying the significance of democracy and personal autonomy.

The thing that Americans will have to acknowledge, sooner or later, is that schooling and education are not synonymous and are often incompatible. Schooling frequently undermines education and interferes with the process in myriad ways.

Schools have traditionally been about things other than education and they have built-in features that are inimical to the sort of personal development ordinarily associated with education. In trying to define and engineer education, many people working in schools defeat their own purposes. This will change only through a comprehensive revolution in which myths are debunked, laws and policies are changed or removed, and many more people become engaged more directly in discovering what children need to realize their intellectual, social, creative and other capacities.

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School Fools, the Reform Charade Parade &

 “Tipping Point” Pointers

                                            

Let me start by saying that I am disgusted and completely demoralized by the gross failure of so-called educators, school officials, scholars and researchers, to accept the reality that so urgently faces them every day with respect to schooling and education. Their complete impotence in their failure to protect millions of children from abuses, incompetence, disillusionment and cynicism should disqualify them from being privileged to spend time with students or having any say in their schooling.

The immutable politics of authoritarian and bureaucratic institutions and the associated boredom and disengagement are known to be inimical in many ways to students. Yet, no one dares name and directly oppose the core problem in order to even start a dialogue about finally implementing authentic change.

I am likewise disappointed more than words can express by supposed “experts”, alternative schooling advocates, journalists, and others (including most parents and researchers), who unthinkingly buy into the institutionalized school hype and who are co-opted by the school administrators, board members, and other school boosters at the expense of students. The premise that education can be forced on children and that school is synonymous with education is our first and most hazardous error.

Everywhere one looks in the field of schooling, which has come to be (incorrectly) identified as the “field of education”, one can see little else but denial, irresponsible resignation, and an acceptance of mediocrity and failure. A bizarre capacity for contradiction and cognitive dissonance is routine, par for the course. School fools are the educational quacks who repeat an endless cycle of hand wringing about how bad things are (things are even worse than they can imagine) and then in the next breath dismiss the bad news as if it was inconsequential. They are suddenly elated and exuberant about how phenomenally wonderful things will be the day after tomorrow (in their dreams!) as if major impediments could merely disappear in a flash.

Criticisms run the gamut as chronic problems and failures are well-documented and rebroadcast far and wide, leading many to demand changes, known generally as “school reform”. Still, denial is the fallback position and reforms never materialize on any scale or for any appreciable period. The complaints and facts are somehow drowned out by the joyous chorus of an imaginary bright future in the coming new phase brought on by excitable gurus and bright new leaders with all manner of fads, pet projects and “flavors of the week”. Life goes on as if there is really nothing at all wrong.

We have as a people a love/hate relationship with schools. We nearly universally conflate schooling with education despite the fact that schooling is in many respects antithetical to anything that can legitimately be called education. Education cannot be mass produced as if in a factory. That is a fact that cannot be denied no matter how hard we try to pretend it isn’t true. “We” simultaneously recognize that schools are doing inestimable harm and share many characteristics with prisons, while we claim that they are the great American success story and marvelous invention for progress!

Dark Matter Matters

Physicists tell us that there is a mysterious material in our universe that is invisible, which is only detectable by observing its effect on the tangible or visible material that has been observed or discovered. They believe it is definitely there but it not quite like any material that can be found in the periodic table.

There is a widespread mythology relative to schools that which has an uncanny resemblance to dark matter in that it is everywhere in the school and education universe, yet is unseen and known only by its effects. This powerful mythology has profoundly enveloped every student and every adult who has been a student. It has myriad elements and aspects that despite being patently and demonstrably false have led to the creation of world views or ‘phenomenological fields’ that unconsciously and almost universally equate school with education automatically, even though schools are designed specifically to impede the more organic educational processes.

Yes, you read it correctly. Schools are NOT designed to speed children along in their learning, discovery, critical thinking skills, social development, or cognitive growth. They are not even good for health and physical development on the whole, and that has been well known and proclaimed by the more perceptive scholars for decades.

There is a ‘cult of school’ in which the reality of failure only increases the resolve of the heavily indoctrinated true believers to invest more faith and confidence in the potential of the schools to magically save us from ourselves. The primary operating thesis behind these awful institutions is a lack of faith in children.

Few people involved with schooling acknowledge the innate talent, intelligence, and capacity for good of children generally. Along with a firm conviction that young people must normally be controlled, programmed, disciplined, and behavior-modified like performing circus animals, the self-identified “educators” believe that children cannot think without their step-by-step instruction.

The popular consensus is that children should be provided with representative glimpses of reality through instruction, lectures, and drill, which replace and modify the more vivid and real pictures they are forming with the aid of their own experience, personal educational efforts, and exposure to the real world (which is completely dissimilar to the contrived school environment) despite assumptions and claims to the contrary. If life were indeed like school, suicide would become much more prevalent.

 

A Fundamental Myth for Starters

One anachronism of major significance that lies at the root of our conundrum is the naive belief that there are people who can break down subjects, disciplines, or skills into subparts or “basics” for all children of certain ages, grades, or levels of development. These supposedly inexperienced, ignorant, and uneducated children can then be taught this formulated and predigested rudimentary material in phases, while grouped together in confined spaces, forming building blocks on which understanding and utility for the children are allegedly built.

Obviously, there is some truth to the idea of finding concepts and basic principles or skill sets that are easier for novices to grasp and work with or to practice over and over in order to advance their capabilities. Teaching relies on making the complex less confusing, intimidating, or incomprehensible, and practice usually makes perfect.

However, children undergo processes from birth if not before birth in which they are forming some fairly sophisticated conceptualizations about all manner of things. There are numerous dimensions along which they will have formed patterns of thought and cognition and highly intricate systems that work synergistically. It is foolhardy to think that large numbers of children can be slow-walked through the identical steps at the same pace without having a clear sense of where each individual child falls along a continuum.

The supposition that basics can be spelled out with uniformity and simplicity ignores several features of learning and knowledge accumulation which are well known to researchers, psychologists, and true educators, which make the focus on manufactured basics irrelevant and counterproductive.

Children vary widely in how they use and understand language. They employ dozens of methods and mechanisms for approaching new ideas and they have almost universally developed “theories” or ideas, beliefs, feelings, perceptions, attitudes, and sensations relative to various aspects of life and knowledge that are quite radically unique and idiosyncratic long before entering school.

If an adult who hopes to be effective in teaching does not become intimately aware with respect to the thought processes, conceptualizations, and knowledge of each individual child being mentored, all sorts of barriers are erected causing disorder and disengagement. Confusion reigns in classrooms and particularly within the minds of vulnerable children (which typically also includes those who are exceptionally “gifted” academically or intellectually) thanks to their collective conditioning and spoon fed Pablum. Boredom is rampant in classrooms regardless of sugar-coated techniques designed to artificially turn learning into fun.

Academicians, researchers, and scholars have made a similar error with IQ testing. When tests are administered to measure intelligence, only a limited few aspects of intelligence can be measured in this way and only with regard to certain cultural facets and with regard to certain individuals whose language experience and capabilities match those expected by test designers. Such tests have led to ludicrous types of discrimination and favoritism and do real damage to confidence and self-esteem on the part of many, while giving a false sense of superiority to others.

A Second Fundamental Myth That Follows from the First

Schools as we know them require a curriculum. Without plans and officially approved content and course designs with specific designated steps to be followed, the belief on the part of these bureaucrats that students are progressing and learning what is deemed as appropriate and acceptable would always be hounded by a constant fear of misdirection and pandemonium. The constant worry about contamination; wasted effort and time; inadequate learning regimens or the teaching of harmful or ineffective content would stop the authorities in their tracks. 

A helter-skelter route of development resulting in a lack of uniformity, consistency, testability, or continuity is to be anticipated by school officials and “experts” in any school where an authority is not micro-managing every aspect for every participant. An organization must be organized. An institution must institute somehow. A school must have its rules, authority, content, and discipline if it is mandated and chartered by the state.

Unfortunately, just as with the “basics” myth, imposing a curriculum that is structured by external “experts”, administered by teachers who have their own peculiarities and idiosyncrasies, and engineered to direct whole groups of students, each who have their own perspectives and needs, the messages get lost in the mad shuffle. There is no element of integration or relevance to particular students’ lives and cognition. Material is predigested and Dead on Arrival.

 The problem is not that there is a curriculum; the problem is that a curriculum that is not organically grown in the school through the intimate interactions of teacher and student following the specific interests and questions posed by students can engage only a few students who are adequately primed to find its content useful and comprehensible.

An equally troubling issue is that a curriculum developed to be dispensed to all students under the auspices of the state and as part of the official school production has the distinct characteristics of a program of indoctrination. It is not possible to present content in this context and to incorporate it into a testing regime as anything other than indoctrination.

A Third Myth – But Who’s Counting – There are Too Many to Count

Another of the myths that is quite fundamental and endemic to schools as we know them is the underlying presumption that children must be brought, kicking and screaming if necessary, to a learning environment. This cynical concept has a very long history and deep roots in religion and tradition.

The image of children as unruly, willful, or wild animals needing to be tamed and controlled can be traced to back even before the concept of “original sin” became the dominant western view. We have been gripped by the not-so-subtle message behind the laws requiring school attendance in every state, which wrongly supposes that real disciplined study and learning is bad tasting medicine that must be forced down the throats of uncooperative or willful children for them to become properly educated and civilized.

Paternalism is generally motivated by good intentions, sincere concern, and a desire to protect. However, when it is institutionalized and perverted by a need to control and by a fundamental lack of respect and regard, it can quickly become a decidedly destructive influence. This, coupled with the innate need on the part of all children for a degree of independence and freedom of exploration and unfettered learning on one’s own terms leads to an unsustainable circumstance.

Children who feel constrained, confined, and conscripted into a holy enterprise that they don’t see as worthy of their time and attention must be cajoled, badgered, browbeaten (or actually physically beaten!) into submission and into participating if they don’t happen to be among the few who relish that kind of group and group-think experience. Tolstoy wrote essays on education in 1862 delineating the reasons why attendance laws would be catastrophic. His predictions were spot-on and continue to be in evidence in schools daily.

An overwhelming body of research provides ample proof that children are anxious to learn. They know the difference between trivia, meaningless drivel, memory work, and busy work as opposed to genuine learning and teaching. True educators know that children and young adults are thrilled to gain insights, make actual discoveries or accrue bona fide knowledge, and to apply their whole being to solving problems and expanding their fields of awareness. Therefore, two opposing philosophies clash on a daily basis. One insults children as incompetent and indolent, while the other revels in their innate capabilities.

The more enlightened people in and around schools struggle valiantly to find ways to create conditions for authentic educational opportunity. Many of the others offer lip service and tepid support for a more humane and “liberal” approach. Yet, the two schools of thought encompass profoundly divergent beliefs and feelings with just the one perverted by misanthropic and anachronistic concepts continuously reinforced by law and consensus.

The doubts and fears of the traditionalists and misinformed benefactors cannot be overcome despite their best efforts to figure out where they went wrong. If they could interact with students on a one-on-one basis all the time in much smaller classes, they might be able to change their bad habits, but that isn’t going to happen for the vast majority.

Myth Number Four

In the interest of time and space, we will stop at myth number four. For any more, readers will have to get a copy of the book coming in a year or two (or, twenty years at the current rate of progress).

Myth number four is also essentially as fundamental as the other three discussed. This one is an all-encompassing view of knowledge that is centuries out of date. The way that we have all learned to think about knowledge through a million messages and cues within our culture is that it is something we must get second-hand from others. Whether it is from the great masters today or of the past, or whether from one exceptional teacher or from books and other media provided by these knowledgeable people, we are never allowed to think of ourselves as a primary source of knowledge. Schools pretend to dispense knowledge like so much rice and beans.

There is a mystical quality to this idea of borrowed knowledge, since those creators of such special and elevated knowledge ostensibly derived their revered knowledge and wisdom from some unearthly superiority or from a god or gods, making them authorities or originators on a wholly different plane from ourselves. This is pure bunk, of course.

No one should denigrate the value of the ideas and conceptualizations that can be found in books and other sources, or the brilliance of great leaders, teachers, and masters in various fields. When we are taught and properly informed by others we are stimulated and changed in our thinking and knowledge.

But, we are not ever receiving knowledge as it was recorded in some totally intact, unaltered form that is on loan from a source and superimposed somehow upon our brain. Regardless of age, we receive information, data, language, images, or conceptualizations that must be integrated with the significant knowledge we already possess as a result of our cognitive powers and creations. This new coherent picture is further modified, interpreted, and processed to create new and original knowledge in the process, whether correct or incorrect, useful or not useful.

The process is extremely complex in that what we perceive and experience in our conscious minds depends upon many factors, including our belief systems, conceptual grasp or familiarity, emotional makeup, language ability or limitations, memories, current physical state and attentional status, etc. This process begins at or before birth. A one-to-one correspondence from the knowledge of others to our own is impossible and would not be desirable even if it were possible, since that would lead to stasis.

Neuroscience and other research studies have shown very convincingly that cognition is a result of interactions between synapses within the body and most significantly the brain as a function of both internal and external stimulation. Knowledge is not something external to the body that can be absorbed or copied and recopied, and it certainly doesn’t come from a deity which transmits via some mysterious mental telepathy.

Knowledge is embodied. Anything that is not embodied is mere information, symbols, or data. This has phenomenal implications for education. It means that the way we think about schooling and education are and for generations have been radically erroneous. The kinds of things being proposed for “school reform” will never move the needle a bit in a hundred years – literally.

The Would-be Fixers and the Cult of the Alternative Cures Advocates

School reform has been the watchword almost since schools were first established. We won’t waste precious time here talking about how thousands of attempts to fix the chronic problems of schools have only compounded the problems for generations. Presumably, anyone who has read this far is well aware of the gross failures of reform efforts.

Educational reform is impossible because, for one thing, schools are not the real problem. We will most probably always need schools to offer certain services and to train and indoctrinate young people into the society and culture. The problem, to start with is the false assumption that schools can offer meaningful education on a mass scale to all. The problem is that myths are perpetuated by the schools themselves, where vulnerable children are a captive audience in the literal sense and where the state has a death grip on every aspect because of attendance laws that require an authoritarian bureaucracy.

When laws mandate attendance, there must be a power structure to guarantee enforcement. The entire apparatus must be rigidly controlled to maintain the illusion that a valid service is being provided. Meaningful reform requires a dismantling of the power structure and the complete elimination of the ability of well-meaning but misguided teachers and others to dictate to children and to arbitrarily superimpose upon them their beliefs and ideas about all manner of things. This cannot begin to happen while laws are on the books requiring attendance. Nevertheless, the would-be reformers keep coming at an astonishing pace.

Currently, we have a new crop of saviors who have put their faith and all their marbles into “un-schooling”, “de-schooling”, home schooling, “free schools”, and now, “Self-Directed Education”. There is no education that is not self-directed, in fact.

However, these cheerful people will not be disabused of the powerful belief that the outdated model of schooling that is prevalent today will be abandoned by the general public simply because it is so destructive and pathological! Their “tipping point” hypothesis posits that traditional schooling is being rejected at an accelerating rate, which will quickly (in perhaps a decade) result in empty schools of the traditional type to be replaced by wonderful new community centers, or other places in which children enjoy the autonomy, respect, and authentic educational opportunity that children need to thrive and become whole individuals.

This brave new world would be great, except that their optimism is utopian and ludicrous on its face. A preponderance of scientific evidence proves beyond all reasonable doubt that climate destabilization is a result of human activity, yet there are large numbers of people around the country who are and will remain dyed-in-the-wool climate deniers. How does anyone convince themselves that the schools will self-destruct due to obvious failures?

Traditional schools have maintained an overwhelming monopoly for many decades because they methodically and incessantly hype their own crucial importance and sacred merit to children who are subjected to a sort of mass hypnosis and whose parents are nearly all devoted converts despite their own bad experiences in nearly identical schools. People typically value their school experience highly because of the myths referred to above, especially the myth that as children they are inadequate, indolent, and desperately in need of discipline and academic instruction of the kind offered. Nostalgia plays tricks on the mind, as well. The messages are drilled into our consciousness through myriad exposures and means.

The people in the alternative “movement” disappoint and disgust me more than the traditionalists and would-be reformers, even though I agree with them completely on almost every issue with respect to the mis-education of students and the need for freedom in schools or in alternative situations. They have become a new cult. They are unable to recognize how unrealistic their objectives are for the majority, now and in the future, because they prefer the same sort of magical thinking that characterizes very young children.

Furthermore, they take a completely passive approach and refuse to engage in fighting the one primary thing that has disadvantaged innumerable children and destroyed many lives. Many of them are former teachers or professionals and they have the support of enthusiastic researchers and scientists. These zealots and their cohorts in the science community have uniformly acknowledged that children have a right to be protected from the abuses and neglect prevalent in many if not most schools, but most don’t see the forest for the trees. They refuse to act.

The alternative cultists, who fervently believe that the schools will become an anachronism because of the recognition by so many people that traditional schooling is harmful, sit patiently waiting for a tipping point or “critical mass” when everyone will simply opt out and abandon the public schools in favor of their various models. They have big conferences and encourage each other, all the while believing passionately in the coming miracle.

Never mind that this is absurd because the schools create their own demand very effectively and train students to disavow and ignore their never-ending cycles of failure as jaundiced “negativity”. Their most optimistic projection is for this astonishing transformation to take place in a decade or two. Meanwhile, they are willing to happily stand by while irreparable damage is done to millions in production-line schools and as privatizers organize to turn schools into profit-making businesses. They acquiesce as a solid block of do-nothings in the futile pretension there is nothing they could do to effectively put up a powerful resistance against the denial of constitutional rights to innumerable young citizens who (they acknowledge) deserve authentic opportunities for education.

One of the leaders of this small anti-school cult is a brilliant and well-known psychologist. He has a Psychology Today blog and has written a great book entitled, “Free to Learn”. The blog is “Freedom to Learn”. He wrote an excellent article with incredible eloquence and clarity entitled, “School is Prison” about two years ago, which essentially stated what I’ve said for many years. More people are willing to listen to what he has to say than will ever listen to a zealot heretic such as myself. However, to think that some majority will buy into the notion that school is prison without some catalyzing event is asking for the spectacular.

The psychologist’s name is Dr. Peter Gray. While I believe that he is on the right track and we should strive towards the ideals we both evangelize, there are powerful undercurrents and oceanic level streams that move about half of all citizens in the exact opposite direction with great force and influence. Those other people have a radically different and quite immutable view of children, human nature, society, and politics.

Dr. Gray believes that all learning, instruction, or academics should be seen as play and that jobs and careers will ultimately be regarded more as play than work and school must be voluntary, if I have understood him correctly. I lean a bit more towards the satisfaction available from work.

My argument with Dr. Gray, expressed many times however, is that the phenomenon he has witnessed in which public sentiments have been turning toward more autonomy for students and away from traditional authoritarian bureaucracies, while exciting and beneficial to a fortunate few children and families, relies on the awareness and proclivities of a particular type of parent and on fortuitous circumstances which will never become the norm without a structural change brought about through legal action. Traditional authoritarian bureaucracies don’t wither away and they don’t relinquish power or rely too much on displaying their merits to the naïve world.

Setting up model schools and expecting large numbers of people to accept their definitions of success or of appropriate policies is just plain foolish. Believing there will be a mass exodus from the obsessively directing to the freedom loving models is magical thinking. The affinity that millions of people have for paternalism, controlling environments, rigid discipline, official and formal “accountability”, measurability of “progress”, mythological religious and moral standards, etc., etc., is here to stay unless something changes in the way the world actually works under laws and traditions.

My position is that children are citizens with rights and privileges that can’t be denied on the basis of age discrimination merely because they are categorized as uneducated or ignorant minors and particularly if the institutions that promise to educate them are proven through irrefutable empirical evidence to have totally missed the mark for a sizeable percentage. This is a constitutional issue.

Compulsory attendance in prison-like schools or even being forced to attend idyllic alternative schools that cater to needs and offer all play and no work clearly constitutes a clear violation of rights, regardless of other considerations. There are very few circumstances in which the coercion of children to participate in activities over long periods of time could ever be justified in a free society.

Of no less significance is the fact that for any state to require attendance and to usurp the rights of parents to make childrearing and education decisions as the authority under which the content of schooling is administered and managed automatically and irrevocably makes instruction into indoctrination. The belief that mass education is remotely a possibility as stated earlier is pure fantasy. Groups are not amenable to education; their circumstances are ripe for dogma, doctrine, and official propaganda.

School reformers have tried every imaginable tactic to circumvent the problems associated with the authoritarian habits of administrators and officials to no avail. Authoritarianism is an indelible feature of mandatory attendance law. Democracy suffers, since children who have been subjected to this conditioning for twelve years have no conception of democratic processes.

There will always be people who recognize the damaging effects of power, control, authority, and the undue influence of moralistic posturing. But, the temporary or severely limited “experiments” that are allowed as alternatives will never get past the first stages in terms of widespread acceptance and application. This is how the universe works.

It's Time for a Paradigmatic Shift in Our Thinking About Education

We are long overdue for a paradigm shift in how we view schools and education. We need a real revolution that is more about separating education from school than reforming school. Schools serve indispensable purposes. They provide training; socialization and social services; instruction and guidance relative to basic skills such as hygiene, work habits, attitudes, and morals, as well as essential babysitting services. To the extent that parents are in control and aware, schools can also provide a type of indoctrination desired for their offspring, including religious indoctrination, as long as the state is not internally involved and the school is not in any respect an extension or tool of the state.

All the things that schools offer as services rendered to willing consumers can be supportive of and make valuable contributions toward education. However, education is something that must be pursued as a consequence of the individual initiative of the child or the parent, and must be consciously chosen, preferably by the family as a unit.

It is in our national interest, as we have most recently learned the hard way, to have citizens who are not bamboozled, brainwashed, or indoctrinated through governmental coercion or control and who are capable of meaningful critical thought. It is essential to get past the pernicious mythology that has perpetuated itself and infiltrated every aspect of our lives.

Education and coercion are antithetical. We can’t stress that too much or say it too many times. Laws that force children to be anywhere they do not willingly choose to be for thousands of hours over twelve formative years and where the state determines every aspect of their experience and every movement they are permitted to make are a priori undemocratic and profoundly damaging in myriad ways. They ensure the force-feeding of something other than edifying education.

The schools have an extraordinary influence over individuals and throughout the social order. Their graduates will not ever easily relinquish the nostalgic sentiments and deeply embedded belief that schooling is the road to salvation and to happiness for any and all. The changes that must take place will not be the result of enlightenment through example or from proselytizing disciples from alternative school or un-school advocates.

The changes must come as a logical conclusion of the freedom and autonomy ordered by courts after due deliberation and evidence offered justifying the reinstatement of the constitutional rights of students. As with Brown v. Board and busing issues, the courts MUST take this to the people and vice versa. Science, in conjunction with the legal process, must be utilized to demand the rights, privileges, and liberties that will only then be demonstrated to enhance educational opportunity and turn schools into hospitable places at long last.  

SUMMARY – A MESSAGE OF GENUINE HOPE

My statement at the beginning that I am disgusted and demoralized was a gross understatement. I am enraged to a point bordering on insanity. One very rarely ever hears a person who is identified as an educator, immediately after admitting the veracity of reports and statistics delineating the disastrous conditions within many schools and the massive failures of our “system”, who doesn’t reflexively dismiss all the bad news as if it doesn’t really matter. These people invariably start babbling in platitudes and with great optimism about how things will change in the near future for the better as a response to truthful facts and information. These school cultists compulsively revert to blithe happy talk without fail.

There have been innumerable public discussions, media sponsored panels or town halls with illustrious guests with national coverage, university lectures and presentations, and radio and television talk shows wherein the stated reason for the event is the deplorable state of affairs in schools and education. Yet, one could safely bet a million dollars that the audience will walk   away with a song in their heart every time because of the glorious hype and promises about the magnificent changes just around the corner.

I have known and worked with a significant number of the victims of mis-education. I have seen up close and personal how schools handicap a sizable percentage of students. Bad parenting and various social influences do their share of harm without question.

However, if education were happening much in schools and if they were living remotely up to their promise, they would be mitigating the extent and severity of the long list of problems. They would be reducing mental illness and dysfunction, not exacerbating those things immensely. Schools are for fish.

I am most angry with the people who should know better. Professors and professionals should know better. The media should know after generations of sameness that they’ve been used to sell bold lies and false hopes. School staff and officials have to either be incredibly foolish and naïve, or they are participating willingly in a great criminal fraud.

However, the people who have let me down the most and who I believe are most culpable today are those people active in the alternative community who have been preaching for decades about the harm done by schools and who have established or praised all manner of alternatives for a tiny contingent of lucky kids, yet who adamantly refuse to act like adults and face the hard reality of millions of children incarcerated in those dysfunctional places. It is irresponsible and childish to accept the risk that these travesties will continue a day longer than necessary.

The mantra for all of these people is, “our children are our future”. They all claim to love children and have the utmost concern for them. One hopes that they sincerely do. However, if they truly believe the facts and statistics that reveal that schooling on the whole as it is practiced is inimical to the welfare and progress of children and if they truly care about all children, there is one and only one course of action.

There is no time to wait for a gradual shift in attitudes and beliefs, since the cancer is malignant and deep in the tissues already. The fight to remove the attendance laws is so long overdue that a major assault must be launched post haste and the battle must persist without cessation until children are free and full citizens.

There are reasons to hope that this war against irrationality can happen. At some point, powerful organizations with adequate resources and personnel will get this message. I’ve tried to establish a nonprofit that can appeal to organizations such as George Soros’ “Open Society Foundation”. I intend to find the meager resources necessary to launch in the new year, although to date I haven’t been able to scrape up even the several hundred dollars necessary because of family and other obligations.

The best weapon in the arsenal however, is the incredibly effective social media and Internet platforms that will soon deliver this message to legions of young people who sense their powerlessness acutely and experience the demoralization and debasement of schooling daily. For generations, the anger generated among students has been misdirected. Frustrations have been turned inward against many of them in the form of guilt and self-loathing. We can change all that. In the meantime, good people must become educated, informed, and enlightened. That is why this article is here. Do YOU get it?